Thursday, March 16, 2017

A Capful of Violets

I bundled up warmly at noon today, winding a fleecy scarf around my head, pulling on my old down jacket and my work boots.  The sun was bright in a blue sky, but the air had a chilly bite.
The path at the edge of the meadow was lined with lush green grass despite the recent frosts, a bit squelchy underfoot. 
I paused for a few moments to watch the clear waters of Spruce Pine Creek splashing over the cobbled creek bed, noted a robin bouncing cheerfully from branch to branch of a small sycamore.

I got myself rather clumsily across the wet ditch that divides two fields, strolled on a few yards and saw them: the first wild violets of springtime, short-stemmed, sprawling on the damp earth.
Kneeling there, camera in hand, I was swept back in time to another March day, another place.

It was warm in Grampa Mac's dining room, cozier than in the north facing rooms where my younger sister and I were living with our parents before they built the little house along the road.
Mother had pulled a chair close to the edge of the metal register which let heat billow into the room from the wood furnace in the cellar. I leaned against her knees while she gently combed the tangles from my long, freshly shampooed hair. 
The window behind us looked onto the back porch; from the metal roof icicle melt dripped onto a steadily shrinking bank of snow. Now and then a long spear of ice let go of the overhanging roof, shattering with a high brittle shiver of sound.

From beyond the kitchen the woodshed door was opened and quickly shut again with a muffled clang, followed by the heavy tread of booted feet up the three steps to the kitchen door.
Grampa Mac crossed the narrow kitchen, paused a moment on the threshold of the dining room to pull off his heavy mittens. 
The collar of his blanket-lined denim 'barn frock' was turned up to meet the 'earlappers' of his woolen cap, his face was ruddy from the cold; he brought with him the fresh scent of sun and snow and March wind, mingled with his usual aura of cows, hay, and wood smoke.

Mother laid aside the comb as Grampa Mac leaned down and commanded, "Take off my cap!"
Puzzled by this strange request I did nothing. Grampa's head was at eye level, covered by the faded buffalo plaid cap, squares of blue and black, brim twisted by seasons of outdoor work in all weather.
The felted wool had picked up a few cow hairs, a powdering of chaff.

Grampa Mac raised his head enough to smile at my bewilderment. "Go on," he urged, 'Pull off my cap!"  I tugged at the cap which came off leaving his thick grey-white hair standing in shaggy peaks.
Lying neatly in the crown of the cap, warm against the dingy flannel lining, lay a bunch of purple violets. I gathered them gently, looked up inquiringly into Grampa Mac's blue eyes.

It was the end of maple sugaring season and Grampa Mac had hitched the team of work horses, Dick and Babe to the work sled to bring sap buckets down from the sugar house to be washed and stacked away for another year.
In a sheltered hollow along the woods road, he noted a patch of bare ground where the first violets  made a brave stand.  Halting the team, he clambered from the sled and knelt to pick a bouquet. Needing both hands to drive, he considered a moment how to bring the delicate flowers home undamaged, then removed his cap and laid them safely there.

 I have picked spring violets in many places; the long-stemmed deep purple ones that appeared in a patch along the road from my parents' house; I've walked up Knox Hill to search out white ones on the slope where the painted trillium flourish.
I have found violets growing among the sagebrush in Wyoming.
Violets-- purple, yellow, white--thrive in Kentucky's springtime, popping up at the edge of my herb garden, clinging to the creek banks, thrusting up along the paths through the woods.

I delight in them, and cherish the memory of Grampa Mac who paused in his work to bring home a capful of violets for a little girl.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Aggravations of Weather

Sweet Autumn Clematis in the sunshine of last Thursday afternoon.
Several nights just below freezing have shriveled the leaves somewhat.
I suppose it was a given that our unnaturally warm winter would slide into a 'cold spell' that threatens premature growth.
In town many of the pink-flowered shrubs and small trees that might be expected to bloom late in March burst into glorious color nearly three weeks ago.  The glory was short-lived, as frosty nights turned blossoms to brown mush.

The is Clematis Candida transplanted from a seedling brought from our first Kentucky home.
It had only one blossom last spring, but that one identified the plant for me.
Nellie Moser and Candida had grown together for years, clambering over a make-shift trellis of chicken wire.  When I carefully potted up a small plant dug from the starts at the bottom of the new trellis which I installed there, I didn't know which variety I had.
The stems of my three clematis plants seem very fragile, almost brittle.
Candida has started to trail along the rough boards of the garden fence.

This was the largest of several buds discovered on Thursday.
The cold may have seared them enough to prevent opening.
I went out before dark this evening and tucked an old tablecloth and a bath towel over the trellises.
It may be 'too little, too late.'

Lady's Mantle emerging from a tangle of dead stems--hopefully it survives the cold weather.

These 'girls' are within a few days of being a year old.
They have enjoyed the sunshine and fresh green grass in spite of the blustery winds of 
the past few days.
As for me, I have somehow put my back 'out'--rather painful and with the added distress of vertigo.
I am annoyed with this unexpected down time, although the cats are delighted that I am spending hours tucked up in one rocking chair or the other.
I rarely watch TV, but Jim discovered the BBC series 'Escape to the Country' which we have been binge-watching for several evenings.
I have always hoped to see England and Scotland in person---something that I can safely say at this point in our lives is not going to happen.
We are enjoying the virtual tours of various English locations familiar from reading; having had some experience in buying and selling houses it is interesting to see what has been on the market in another setting.  Interior spaces seem smaller, especially the bedrooms, but there have been some lovely kitchens on display.
The gardens are so lush and beautiful, even when the outdoor property is very small.

Several more chilly days and frosty nights are in our forecast.
I've no wish to be outside in cold weather, but hoping that my back won't prevent me much longer from puttering at my usual projects. 
We are out of sorts with the time change--does anyone really like setting the clocks ahead?

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Hobbling Home

It is a month today since Willis went missing.
I was mildly surprised, but not concerned when Willis was not on the front doorstep when I came downstairs. I've sometimes wondered if he has an internal clock which has him waiting for me each morning, or if perhaps he hears my measured tread on the 14 stairs to the main floor and hurries from one of the blanket-lined 'beds' on the side porch to pose on the doormat, face up-tilted to the window in a beguiling reminder that he needs his breakfast served before any other concern can claim my attention.

It was a sunny morning, but with a hint of chilly wind. We needed to leave shortly after nine, but took turns poking our heads out the door to call, "Willis, Willis!" He might have noticed something behind the stable or down at the curve of the lane, some matter that required his urgent supervision, causing him a delay in appearing for breakfast.

We were home shortly after 1 p.m.--and no tweedy-coated cat came to meet the car when we drove in. No Willis strolling up from the shop or rounding the corner by the side porch. The wind had picked up, moving clouds across the sun.  We dressed warmly and went out to search, quartering the dooryard, plodding along the lane, shouting his name into the windy afternoon.  Jim looked in the shop--Willis might have whisked through the door when Jim was shutting up the night before.  I prowled through the stable, back around the garden.  Willis was nowhere to be found.
Late on the previous afternoon a battered pickup had trundled up the lane, bringing two men who were interested in one of Jim's restored tractors. They decided early on to buy the tractor but stayed endlessly [as men do] sharing fond memories of the tractors they had known, stories of crops planted and harvested in years gone by.  Passing the pantry window I looked out to see Willis taking it all in, listening and observing from his post on a stack of lumber. Now, I turned to Jim and asked, already dreading his reply, "Did you see Willis after the men left?"

It had been nearly dark when the men finally drove off, the headlights of their elderly pickup receding slowly down the lane.  "No," Jim reflected. "He was there underfoot the whole time we were talking, but, come to think of it, I didn't see him when I turned off the shop lights."
We realized, with heavy hearts, what had likely happened.  Willis, from kittenhood, has had a fascination with vehicles.  We have many times had to extract him from a visitor's car or truck. He once slipped into our van when Jim was loading building supplies, hunkered down, invisible and unnoticed beneath a length of insulation batting, then popped out between the front seats after he had ridden with us several miles down the road. He stowed away in the tool compartment when an acquaintance came by to install a water purifying system. He was discovered at the next stop in Columbia and returned home by the kindly man and his sons in time for supper.

Jim was to deliver the purchased tractor on Monday. When he phoned to confirm the details he inquired if, by chance, the men had found a cat in the back of their truck.  Of course they had not.

I visualized several scenarios in grim detail. Willis had vaulted from the pickup bed at a busy intersection, only to be flattened as he darted wildly between moving vehicles. He had been thrown from the truck on a lonely stretch of road, lost, hungry, cold.

The weather had turned dismal by Sunday morning, bursts of icy rain slanted in on a harsh wind, the temperature plummeted. I couldn't choose between the two endings I had devised--a quick death beneath the wheels of a car, or the slow sad misery of cold and hunger.  We told ourselves we would never know for certain what had happened to Willis.

I didn't share the news of Willis's disappearance with our daughter until the third day of his absence. Her response was one of grief for the loss of 'the greatest blue-grey bear cat in Kentucky."

I told myself sternly that the era of Willis was over, but a dozen times a day I found myself looking for him--in the snug basket on the back porch, on the lumber stack by the shop door.

Wednesday, four days past Willis's disappearance, the early morning was grey and unpromising. I plodded down the stairs accompanied by a retinue of the cats who have house privileges.  Unthinkingly reverting to habit, I stopped to peer out the glass of the front door before continuing into the kitchen.

He was there!  Willis was sitting on the shabby doormat, face tilted up in greeting. I opened the door, scooped him up, burying my face in his stripy fur. I felt the first tentative stirrings of his purr. By the time I was halfway up the stairs with him clutched against my sweatshirt, the purr was approaching full throttle.
Jim was only half awake when I dumped Willis on his pillow. "See who has come home!"  Jim, startled, rolled over to find himself nose to nose with Willis who was fairly vibrating with enthusiastic purring and excited meows.

It wasn't until he had eaten, washed his face and settled his whiskers that we noticed the injury to his right hind leg. Willis started off the porch on three legs: hop-hop-rest.  Hop, hop, rest. We felt carefully for broken bones.  There were none. No cuts, no visible swelling, but a very definite limp as though his hip was slightly out of place.
We think we've reconstructed the 'rest of the story.'  Willis, overcome by curiosity, jumped into the back of the visiting men's truck, sniffed about, poked through the assortment of things I recall being there, curled up comfortably for a snooze and rode off into the sunset.  We suspect that he was awake and rather alarmed by the time the truck stopped at the junction of Sanders Ridge Road and Rt 206.  Looking for a way out of the truck bed he likely was pitched abruptly onto the blacktop landing heavily and wrenching his hip. His homing device was working well, but it took him 4 slow and painful days and nights to hobble home. Did he shelter in a shed or under a porch, burrow into a leafy ditch while the rain pelted down?
The details we'll never know.  Willis stayed close to the front porch during those first days at home.  He ate well, hopped along the drive, stretched on the sun-warmed concrete of the south porch floor. He managed limited patrol duties bouncing along with the injured leg tucked up. By his second week at home he was putting all four feet on the ground, but using only three legs when he wanted to put on speed. The first few attempts at leaping to sit on the retaining wall ended in an undignified fumble.

With his adventure now a month behind him, Willis is almost back to normal. His gait is slower than in the past, but his balance is good, he can land fairly gracefully on the garden wall to supervise and get in the way as I prod at emerging perennials.  He ambles behind me down the lane to wait crouching at the bend, camouflaged in his tweed coat, popping out of a tangle of dried weeds and dusty leaves with his familiar "Aha!  Gotcha!"
Mindful that this painful experience was unlikely to teach Willis what he ought to know, we are more diligent than ever to locate his where-abouts when a vehicle leaves the dooryard. The UPS truck is suspect, as is a neighbor's vehicle left unattended with the window down or the door partly open. When one of Jim's tractor customers rolls in I round up Willis and shut him into the back entry where he lurks with flattened ears showing his annoyance.
We scold Willis and remind him of the trouble he has caused. 
We tell him that his recent escapade may have permanently impaired his agility, taken a few cat years off his life.  We note when a damp morning chill seems to stiffen his hip joint; we see him carefully calculating a leap that until a month ago would have been smoothly automatic.
Mostly we are relieved and happy to have Willis back home, nosing into our business, over-seeing our work, providing companionship, secure in his job as head cat and farm manager.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Restless Weather

Photos taken over the past week are a record of our unsettled weather.
This was Friday at noon, warm sunshine, but a strong wind that sent dry leaves skirling along the lane and sang in my ears as I worked at clipping and pruning the sage, thyme and lavender in the small plot near the side porch steps.

Afternoon clouds moved in, churning across the sun, bringing evening rain.

Several mornings have been dark and misty.
Today a storm surged in at about 8 a.m.--thunder, lashing wind, rain that drummed on the metal roof.
Bobby Mac, who had been outside for his usual morning explorations, streaked inside and flung himself behind the laundry basket in the downstairs bathroom, his usual place of refuge during noisy storms.  We called Nellie, but he didn't appear until I stood on the back porch during a lull in the downpour.  He dashed out of the lean-to at the side of the shop, ran to the back door, flung himself inside, muddy-footed, tail wet and bedraggled. 

At times the sun breaks through.

I was late in trimming the lavender last spring.  All the plants in the herb bed have now been given a preliminary pruning. Several lavender plants suffered in the prolonged rainy heat of July and early August.  I have trimmed them back severely and will watch to see if they revive.  The purple sage wintered well; common sage had gotten leggy and needed the encouragement of a clipping.

Variegated vinca knows no restraint. Unfazed by winter frosts it trailed over the wall by the side steps, ran along the edge of the porch.
I trimmed it brutally--which will likely only serve to encourage more rampant growth.
Usually self-seeded violas [johnny-jump-ups] are blooming by late winter.
I have looked for them and today noticed what may be several very tiny seedlings.

Phlox "David" is alive and establishing a small clump of plantlets in the east leg of my struggling perennial border.

The clematis makes progress.
Temperatures are predicted to drop to a few degrees below the frost point before morning--I hope the clematis can deal with the abrupt change. 

Water rushes through the culvert at the bend in the lane.

The seasonal brook along the lane has been running for several weeks.
The deluge this morning has caused it to overflow.

Churned up froth and a sweep of dry leaves have caught in downed limbs of the willows.

The brook originates somewhere back in the woods beyond the stable. A few hours of heavy rain bring it to rushing life, surging noisily through the pasture. 

By mid-afternoon today the temperature was falling and the wind had a chilly bite.
We let the fire die down last evening. but as dusk came on the house began to seem a bit bleak.
Jim was away on an errand and I knew I would be attending a meeting at church.
I gathered an armful of twigs for kindling, added a handful of the lavender clippings --saved for such a purpose--and soon had a cheerful fire sending scented warmth into the room.
Gusts of wind buffeted the van as I drove into town, but had quieted by the time I made my careful way home on the winding road.
I did not linger on my way into the house, pausing just long enough to notice the sickle moon set like a shallow bowl in the black sky; brilliant stars, a tang of wood smoke on cool damp air; inside, light, warmth, cats stretched on the rug by the big black range. 
At 11 p.m. the thermometer outside the kitchen window stands at 44 F--20 plus degrees cooler than this morning.
Perhaps the wind and rain are over for a bit and a March frost will creep in quietly.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

An Addendum

I worked on the 'February Gardening' post over the space of an hour or so--loading some photos and then coming back to create the text.
Along the way I decided my stitchery projects of the week didn't quite work with the gardening theme and so removed the photos.
Sometimes 'blogger' has a mind of its own and evidently the photos of the apron and pillowcases were visible for awhile.

A young woman from our church is to be married shortly and a bridal shower was arranged for her this past Sunday.
It was a lovely occasion, elegant and pretty enough to have graced Victoria Magazine. 
One of our church women has a talent for decoration and the creation of a perfect setting for any special event. 
The meal was delicious and made extra appealing with tables daintily set with lavender and white candles, flower arrangements and springtime accessories. 
A luncheon was presented prior to the fun of watching the bride unwrapping her gifts. 
I had inquired of the bride's mother for color preferences.
Her choice for kitchen accents is 'red'--thus the red and white apron.
I thought the heart applique was appropriate!
Turquoise and silver grey had been chosen for bedroom and bath.
I found the pretty batik fabrics at our local quilt shop.
I enjoy crafting items with a specific person in mind.

February Gardening

Fresh leaves on the nameless shrub rose. 

It rained last night [Tuesday] gently and intermittently, ushering in a pearly grey dawn, that gave way to a sunny morning.
The thermometer outside the kitchen window stood at 59 degrees F. at 6:30 a.m.--just as it had at 10:30 p.m. the night before.
We've had a run of warm days that prompt us to think in terms of an early spring.
Wild daffodils are in bloom, swaths of fresh yellow along ditches, billowing over meadow slopes and nodding at the edge of woodlands.
Folks in Kentucky refer to them as 'March Lilies'--an indicator of their accepted bloom time.

Perhaps optimistically, we decided to sow seeds of Swiss chard and beets yesterday.  I wanted to plant kale as well, as it is more cold hardy than Swiss chard; I was able to buy a packet of seed at the Beachy Amish produce farm last evening--too late and dark to plant and a tad too wet today to stomp about and compact the soil.
I worked outside yesterday for nearly four hours.
I wrenched away at the bleached stalks of weeds which enveloped the raised bed at the end of the workshop, clearing space around iris and the barely emerging pink tips of peonies.
Sadly, hundreds--make that thousands--of tiny weeds have already emerged. I troweled over much of the soil, but know that the battle is only begun.

Dandelions popping up.
I left the raised bed to scrabble along the edges of the perennial border. 
Many of the weeds that defied my layers of mulch are low-growing, mat-forming. Having lost a number of plants to the endless rain and heat of last summer, I wanted to check for survivors and ensure that they weren't swallowed up in weeds before having a chance at spring growth. 

Buds discovered on a clematis. 
I have been concerned for the well-being of my three clematis plants.
The stems seem incredibly slender and fragile.
I am heartened to see leaves unfolding.

New growth at the base of the clematis.  
This is 'Candida' the old variety growing at our first home in Kentucky.
I potted up a start before we left and it had a first season in new ground last year.
In scratching up weeds near the newest clematis, Duchess of Edinburgh, I unwittingly uprooted a stem sprawled under dry leaves.  I gently tucked it back into the soil, but it is damaged. I carefully lifted several other fragile stems and coaxed them against the trellis.

I was assisted/ kept company by Willis. 
He sometimes has to be urged out of the way--at which point he can become testy--but his loyalty is heartening. 

Willis eventually bedded himself down in dry leaves behind a barricade of thorny rugosa branches.
I had a pair of clippers as well as a slender trowel and a 'digger,' so the roses have had a
 preliminary pruning. 

The double orange day lilies near the side porch landing are flourishing.
A second clump of them was hastily interred by the pasture gate; I need to move them to a spot where they are better appreciated.

Daffodils are in bloom, tempting one to stop and admire at every bend on our winding back roads.
The urge to garden is stirring as it does each year at the first hint of spring.
I need to be realistic. 
[Four hours of crawling about on my knees does have consequences!]

We were interested to see that our Beachy Amish neighbors have started the seasonal work of their produce farm. Their front field which lies along the lane into their home and store has been newly turned. Neat rows of soil have been mounded up and are under lengths of black plastic--the plastic serves to warm the soil and to [hopefully] smother the first growth of weeds. 
I continue to long for a greenhouse--even a very tiny one.
Jim talks about it, but it remains too far down his 'list' to be a believable reality. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Family Breakfast

Oatmeal with dried cranberries, brown sugar, cream;
 butter-slathered toast from homemade whole-meal bread. 

"Would you eat oatmeal for breakfast?"
I turned from the bleak prospect of another grey and chilly morning unfolding beyond the kitchen window, feeling the need of hearty comfort food.
Jim, engrossed in a website catalog of vintage tractor specs, did not answer.
He has, over the past several years, expressed a dislike of oatmeal, his reasoning poised between, 
"I had to eat that for too many mornings growing up," to the more pejorative observation that oatmeal, at least as commonly prepared, resembles 'dog snot'--a substance surely seldom encountered at the table in real life.

Having fixed on oatmeal as a desirable breakfast and not wanting to reduce the amount to a single serving, I repeated my query.
Jim turned from his laptop, recited his findings regarding the horse power, model year and distinctive features of the Massey Ferguson tractor currently undergoing restoration in his shop.
As an after-thought he rather grudgingly agreed that he could eat oatmeal this morning if it
 wasn't 'sticky.'

As I measured water, waited for it to boil, added rolled oats and stirred, sliced homemade bread for the toaster, I pondered the family breakfasts of former decades.

My nature, like that of my late father, has always been decidedly nocturnal.
I've no wish to lie abed late in the morning, but the necessity of early rising when accompanied by a requirement to be properly dressed and in my right mind, to say nothing of eating an early breakfast, is challenging.
From junior high through high school I had a long commute, so such breakfast as I could manage was swallowed with one eye on the clock.

Mother did her conscientious best. By the time we children straggled downstairs she had already overseen Daddy's breakfast, the preparation of his lunch box and the fixing of a tall
 thermos of coffee.
In winter Daddy liked oatmeal, slow-cooked all night in a double-boiler pushed to the back burner of the kerosene cook stove.
In summer he consumed a large bowl of 'puffed wheat' or corn flakes, munched his two slices of toasted white bread, while staring morosely out the west-facing window of our tiny kitchen.
 It was not the thing to attempt conversation at such an hour.

Children's breakfast in winter was more oatmeal, varied by'Maltex' [dark and gritty] or an innovative hot cereal particular to Vermont, called 'Maypo' [finely cut oatmeal flavored with maple syrup.]
I remember 'Bluebird Orange Juice'--tasting rankly of the tin container after a day or so in the fridge-- later supplanted by a powdered orange drink called 'Tang.'
Hot cocoa [not a good chaser for orange juice] and toast rounded out the weekday morning meal.

During my own children's school days, I urged a hearty breakfast.
By then there were more options.  Hot oatmeal was often replaced by home made granola sweetened with honey or maple syrup, invitingly loaded with dried fruit, toasted coconut, chopped walnuts or slivered almonds. Home-canned fruit, good homemade bread, toasted or plain, was offered with the option of jam, peanut butter, or honey. 

Son Howard dutifully consumed whatever was set out.

Daughter Gina, gifted with a dramatically obstinate nature, found breakfast a pure misery, and managed to convey her distaste to anyone in the room.
A meager spoonful of cereal wincingly inserted into her mouth, was rolled about, finally swallowed with an audible gulp or [too often] spat back into the bowl with the threat,
 "That stuff will make me puke!"
I recognize, belatedly, that it would have made more sense to send her off with an apple or a granola bar to be consumed at morning break, but the rigid structure of school rules at the time didn't cater to individual preferences. 
Years later with the children grown and Jim often away for days or weeks at a time my breakfast preferences changed. While the kettle boiled for tea I rummaged the fridge for leftover soup or casserole, toasted an English muffin to spread with cream cheese.

Retirement in Kentucky finds us with a relaxed attitude toward breakfast. It is rare that we consume more than 2 meals per day. 
Breakfast is a movable, usually mid-morning affair--depending on weather, season, plans for the day.
We don't always choose the same components.  I may prefer yogurt and fruit, having started the morning much earlier with my one cup of coffee and a cookie! 
Often Jim has worked for several hours in the shop before coming in to suggest that we have waffles with maple syrup and a fruit sauce made from berries stashed in the freezer.  Sometimes we have turkey bacon with scrambled or poached eggs. Occasionally breakfast becomes the main meal with potato and veggies.
Jim may stodge up a helping of cornmeal mush or cream of wheat liberally laced with maple syrup and dollops of butter, an offering which I politely refuse.
I may be inspired to bake blueberry muffins to share with our neighbors or to create an omelette loaded with chopped onion, sweet peppers and shredded cheese.
In season we glory in fresh cantaloupe, strawberries. 

I recall sometimes in wonderment the breakfast consumed daily by Grandpa Mac.
He appeared in the farmhouse dining room at 7:30 each morning, having milked and fed the dairy herd and tended to various 'chores.'
He waded through oatmeal, followed by a platter of eggs with a side of bacon or ham, progressed to  a succession of sourdough pancakes liberally buttered and swimming in maple syrup, the lot washed down with several cups of milky coffee. 
When this hearty fare had been stowed, he set his plate on the floor to be polished by the faithful collie who had waited, paws folded, a respectful distance from his chair.

I'm told that today's children are served breakfast at school or daycare. 
Commuters swill coffee from styrofoam containers thrust at them through a drive-up window, nibble at a sticky pastry while maneuvering through traffic.
Breakfast, as my generation knew it, has become something of a Sunday treat, perhaps the one morning meal of the week to be anticipated and enjoyed at relative leisure.

Jim and I continue to appreciate breakfast as a meal which varies in both menu and hour--one of the pleasant choices of retirement.